Languages for enhanced opportunities on the European Labour Market
I. Key issues
statement on the aims of the report
foreign languages at the heart of new EU educational policies
o foreign languages in the context of the Lisbon Strategy
o foreign languages among the new basic skills
o multilingual and intercultural competence as precondition for an
increase in mobility (both between jobs and geographical mobility)
o relevant trends on the European labour market (information to be requested from DG
o links between TNP3 SP2 and previous TNs and ENLU
II. Languages and the issue of employability – trends across Europe
o new linguistic demands in the private and public sectors resulting from European
integration and globalisation: languages and skills / competences
o formal and informal linguistic and intercultural qualifications sought after on the national
labour markets / the European labour market
o validation of learning, assessment, certification – what does the labour market
recognise and value?
o communication / co-operation between HEIs / public authorities and the world of work –
aims and structures
III. Needs and recommendations based on the above two sections – in table format
I. Key issues
The overall background of TNP3-SP2, and thus of this synthesis report, is that the European Union has
a politically formulated goal of working towards ensuring individual competence in three languages –
mother tongue plus two foreign languages – for all its citizens1. However, not a great deal is done to
make this a reality. The current project thus aims to focus on these problems, at the level of university
education and interaction between university education and the world of work, and to present a number
of recommendations for improvement of the situation – recommendations which require action at
European level, at national level, at university level and at company level.
It is difficult to make safe long-term predictions about how the development in the area of languages will
be in the future. It is a basic recommendation emanating from this project that we know too little about
these issues across Europe, and that more empirical research needs to be done in order to give the
right answers to the challenges facing Europe in this respect.
The national reports whose results are synthesised in this report have been undertaken as part of the
TNP 3 project in the Area of Languages, sub-project 2. They focus on the relationship between
languages and employment on the current European labour market and examine the implications for
language studies. The report will indicate key tendencies in labour market trends across the different
member states of the EU and the candidate countries, and the implications that these may have for the
study of languages.
This first section of the report will introduce the project, whose importance is underscored by the
recognition by Europe through policies and statements of the key role which languages must play in
fostering economic health and mutual understanding within the Union both now and in the future. An
outline of certain broad tendencies on the European Labour market serves to highlight the role that must
be played by language studies attuned to the needs of the twenty first century. A brief reference to
projects undertaken in earlier years indicates the extent to which current work is part of a continuum of
reflection and arises from and builds on studies and discussions that took place at previous stages
The second chapter of the report will focus more closely on the linguistic requirements of the European
Labour market with a study of new linguistic demands in the light of enlargement and the process of
globalisation as well as increasing integration and internal migration in Europe. This will be
complemented by a consideration of the linguistic and intercultural qualities sought by employers and
the types of certification and qualities valued by them. Finally, co-operation and communication
between HEI’s, public authorities and the world of work will be discussed.
The last section of the report comprises an outline of some needs and recommendations arising from
the work featuring in this report.
Foreign Languages in European education
As Europe works to fulfil its aim of becoming ‘the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based
economy in the world’ with ‘a greater social cohesion’ while at the same time remaining true to the
1„Promoting Language Learning and Linguistic Diversity: An Action Plan 2004-2006“ Commission of the European
principle of ‘Unity in diversity’, languages have assumed an increasingly strategic role within its
educational policies set in place as part of the implementation of the Lisbon vision. Increased mobility
and mutual recognition of qualifications are essential to the optimum utilization of the workforce and
have been facilitated at inter-governmental level by the Bologna process and signposted by meetings
and resultant communiqués: Sorbonne; Bologna; Prague; Berlin and shortly Bergen. Mobility cannot be
truly effective without adequate language competence and the study of languages fosters too the
mutual respect and tolerance essential for good understanding among diverse traditions and countries
as well as the maintenance of a harmonious and cohesive Union. European policies have emerged from
a range of fora and discussions (building in many instances on earlier work), including the Working
Group Improving Foreign Language Learning and the Action plan on Language Learning and Linguistic
Diversity approved by the Commission 24 July 2003. There is also a concern to ensure the
transparency and inter-Union legibility of language qualifications among stakeholders, crucial to mobility,
as was recognized by the Barcelona Council with their call (2002) for the establishment of a linguistic
competence indicator. The multi-pronged approach adopted by Europe in its policies covers the early
learning of languages in primary school; the promotion of linguistic diversity and the mother-tongue plus
a minimum of two concept; the recognition of the need to increase hours of language contact at
secondary school (potentially facilitated by the teaching of content in particular subjects through another
language: CLIL/EMILE); the improvement of language learning and the training of teachers; the
acknowledgement that language learning is an ongoing process in lifelong learning beyond formal
education; the importance of including opportunities for the acquisition of intercultural sensitivity and
understanding within the curriculum.
Key economic and employment trends
While there are differences between various groups of European countries, it is evident that, despite
this, trends which are very clearly visible in relation to EU15 are also beginning to emerge in the new
member states and candidate countries, despite their different economic situations.
European countries have seen a strong shift towards the service industries with that sector being the
largest one in terms of share of the economy and employment (the range is from approximately two
thirds to three quarters). Even if agriculture remains important in certain countries, employment in the
sector has shown a decrease (and sometimes it is very marked). Manufacturing also too shows a
decrease although it holds a larger share of the economy.
While developments in the accession and candidate countries are to some extent conditioned by the
shifts effected in their economic systems, lower rates of pay and less favorable living conditions, it is
clear that there too the trend is towards an increase in employment in the service sector and reduction
elsewhere. However, in these countries manufacturing and agriculture retain an importance and the
decrease is in some cases quite small These changes are accompanied by the spread of new
technology and the move to a knowledge based economy.
In a globalised world, companies and investments cross national boundaries to reach the locations
perceived as most advantageous to them whatever their sphere of activity. The countries of EU15 see
both outward and inward investment with some variation as between years and conditioned too by their
economic interests and actual or potential trading partners. Despite the general affluence of these
countries and the positive financial flows, their good living conditions and high labour costs have led to a
movement of labour intensive manufacturing processes towards lower cost countries meaning that they
are likely to retain only high value processes. Certain office functions and services are also in process of
being off-shored. The trend is projected to be a continuing one with implications for the nature of
employment available. While there is and will be demand in highly skilled occupations, less specialized
and low paid employment continues to be available in the service and care sectors (in catering and
domestic services, for instance). Globalisation is also leading to less permanence in employment and
more flexible working patterns.
The investment and employment pattern is somewhat different for accession and candidate countries
who have on account of their lower costs been able to profit from the movement towards globalisation
and who are experiencing a growth in inward investment with location, development, costs and stability
being conditioning factors. However, they are by no means the only beneficiaries and countries outside
Europe such as China and India are profiting from off-shoring due to the even more advantageous
pricing levels which they are able to offer.
There are variations in employment levels in EU countries and, within countries, between regions of the
country concerned. In general, there is slight variation in employment around the European average
depending on the country and the year. While accession and candidate countries have experienced
relatively high unemployment levels with the restructuring of their economies, in general unemployment
in them is beginning to fall, however slightly. Their specific problem is, however, economic emigration
due to better salary levels and conditions in more advanced economies and this exodus concerns,
among others, skilled and educated members of their workforce who may either find it difficult to get
employment within their own country or who are attracted by higher salary levels in neighbouring
countries. While this benefits the Union as a whole, the countries concerned regret the loss of the
contribution which such workers might make to their developing economies.
EU 15 countries have an aging population, apart from Ireland but even there the birth rate is beginning
to show a decline. Accession and candidate countries also report some drop in the birth rate (even if
small) and in the proportion of the population under 15 which has considerable implications for the
future, for growth and for standards of living.
In order to remain competitive in the face of global competition, there is a concern to increase
productivity and to create high performance workplaces with some countries performing better than
others in this respect. Given demographic shifts, there is also a need to increase labour force
participation rates so as to draw full advantage from existing human resources.
While large companies and multinational corporations offer considerable employment opportunities
throughout Europe, small and medium sized enterprises remain important providers of employment
within the countries of Europe (and indeed are dominant in certain countries) and a number of
measures have been taken to support them. While patterns in accession and candidate countries are
shifting, it looks as if there too the small and medium sized company will play an important role in the
economy. Educational providers must therefore take account of the needs of these companies who –
depending on their sphere of activity - may also be active exporters.
For European countries, the highest proportion of their trade is carried out within the EU and accession
and candidate countries have experienced a growth in EU trade (as was earlier the case for EU15
countries as they joined the Union). However, in addition to this intra-European trade, there is also a
sizeable volume of trade with countries outside the union which is for certain countries very substantial
and represents in all cases an important source of wealth creation.
The employment and economic trends revealed by studies of individual European countries show a
consistent pattern in response to the current economic situation and must influence the approach of
higher education institutions to the programmes they offer.
An on-going process
The present work follows on from studies undertaken by earlier stages of the thematic network project.
Arising from the first Sigma project (09/06-08/09) which in its consideration of language learning in
member states laid the basis for future work, the first Thematic Project in the Area of Languages (TNP1)
focused in depth on a variety of issues central to the teaching and learning of languages. Of particular
relevance was the work of the sub-group on Language Studies for Students of Other Disciplines which
signalled the importance of a better understanding of the needs of the labour market and held a
workshop on Second Language Needs in the Professional World in Madrid in October 1998. Also of
relevance were sub-projects one and two on Multi-lingualism and the Less Widely Used and Less
Taught Languages and Intercultural Communications. TNP1 concluded with a dissemination year (TNP-
D 01/11/99 – 31/10/00) where the labour market concerns were integral to both themes. In Languages,
Mobility, Citizenship sub-theme one focused on Mobility and Co-operation: the Needs of Students and
of the Labour Market while in the other theme Language Studies for Professional Life Sub-theme 6 had
as its remit: Language Studies at Advanced Level for non-language Professionals. The results of this
work was disseminated and discussed at a conference in Brussels in September 2000.
The second Thematic Network Project in the Area of Languages concentrated on improvements and
innovations in higher education programmes and learning modes, focusing on three themes in
particular: Curriculum Innovation; New Learning Environments and Quality Enhancement in Language
Studies. These themes were informed by three horizontal issues reflecting European strategy and also
pointing forward to the third Thematic Project, namely Universities as Actors in Lifelong Learning; The
European Dimension and most closely related to the current project: The Relevance of Language
Studies to Professional Life.
The following chapter turns more specifically to the crucial question of languages and employablility.
II. Languages and the issue of employability – trends across Europe
The general trends on language and the issue of employability across Europe presented in this section
are based on the analysis of the national reports prepared as part of the project. Various sources of
information representing different perspectives (those of employers, employees and specialists in the
subject area) have been used by the authors of the national reports to seek out data such as:
communications from labour Ministry and employment offices, from employers, employers’
organisations in the private and public sector, international organisations, analysis of company
academic recruiting and career guidance literature, interviews with job recruiters, human resource
managers, employees, surveys on professional insertion of graduates after some years of having
finished their studies, surveys on language needs of unemployed done by labour offices, news reports
in the press, and studies and research.
Different information about the different countries is available. In some countries (Finland, Germany,
Lithuania, United Kingdom, Italy, Switzerland) various surveys and studies have already been
conducted over the past years and quite precise and distinctive information on language needs in the
regional, national, European and international labour market, with specific regard to non language
graduates (or language graduates working outside language related industries and professions), is
available. In other countries the information remains more general. For specific information and
information sources on the different countries, the please consult the national reports on the website of
the TNP3/2 project (http://www.fu-berlin.de/tnp3).
New linguistic demands in the private and public sectors resulting from European integration
and globalisation: languages and skills/ competences
All the reports claim that there are definitely new and growing linguistic needs and demands resulting
from European integration and globalisation with specific regard to non-language graduates due to
economic changes. That is to say, the move from an agricultural industrial society to becoming a society
where services are the dominant activity, and the change toward a knowledge-based society which is
related to the rapid evolution of communication and information technology, and implies increasing
complexity and internationalisation as well as restructuring in both the private and public sectors. These
changes go along with an increase in and change of broadly communicative tasks and functions.
What kind of language competence in general is needed and why?
First of all, there is a growing awareness on the part of all stakeholders - students, universities,
professionals, employers, government - of the vital importance of language and intercultural skills and
experiences and life long language learning skills.
The following factors are mentioned to explain the increase of the importance of linguistic and
The enlargement of the EU and its progressive opening-up to the outside has an impact on the range of
markets or intensifies business relations with suppliers, providers, customers and other partners inside
the EU and all over the world. This requires better communication competences as well as
competences for interpersonal and strategic communication including intercultural competences
whether in face-to-face or virtual contexts.
The mismatch of the linguistic and intercultural competence of graduates and the real needs of the
labour market have negative consequences on the labour market. Linguistic and cultural problems are a
reason for low quality of work and mistakes in the work process and in its objectives, and also cause
loss of business and a barrier to trade. The lack of precision in translations, the incapacity to discuss
details or to sign agreements in the language of partners, the inability to follow opportunities and the
reluctance on the part of employers to enter markets where linguistic skills are required can constitute a
major reduction in the potential markets available for companies. High reliance on outside language
professionals can slow down response time to materials written in a foreign language compared to other
European integration and internationalisation produces changes in the relationships at the workplace;
the teams become more international, multicultural and interdisciplinary, with flatter hierarchical
structures going along with the decrease in professional monocultures. This calls for more team work
and networking which implies more interaction, negotiation and exchange. Graduates need a broad
range of communicative competencies in their mother tongue as well as in other languages.
In fact, the important contribution of employee input in project teams and work groups is often lost
because workers do not have adequate linguistic and intercultural competence or self-confidence to
take part in discussions, even if this seems to be improving with the younger generation. Productivity
can decrease due to different value systems even if there is a common language, e.g. in a high
percentage of mergers the productivity is worse afterwards due to cultural differences that are ignored
and lead to misunderstanding among customers and employees, problems of motivation and conflicts.
Economic changes with increased flexibility and productivity intensify the pressure on employees. Job
uncertainty or unemployment increases professional and geographical mobility, and the demand in
relation to language competences is reinforced. As linguistic and intercultural competences in one or
more languages in the world of work have become an economic factor, employers are more concerned
about the language skills of their employees than before. Foreign language skills and competences
constitute a factor which largely increases the opportunities for employability. There is even a tendency
that these skills are expected to be part of any academic profile.
Rapid and constant change of professional profiles and the arrival of new professional profiles due to
the dynamic evolution of knowledge and technologies require increased flexibility and the capacity for
life-long learning in general, and the ability to continue to learn new languages and to adapt language
and intercultural competences to changing needs and situations.
Generally speaking, this implies a more extensive view of the concepts than traditional "knowledge of
language". The concept refers to both the mother tongue and to other languages, and covers skills and
competences which are more often identified as cognitive or psychological than language-dependent.
"Linguistic demands" is interpreted as a broad concept including:
- knowledge of the system of language
- know-how regarding the use of that system in various contexts and for various purposes, which
implies that languages and communication competence is related to both generic competences for
interpersonal and strategic communication and subject- specific competences
- capacity to up-date linguistic and intercultural competences on a life-long basis.
There is a consensus that English as an international language, as a tool for providing access to
important sources of information, and as an instrument of communication, is becoming more and more
Although in several countries English is indispensable, a good command of English alone is not enough.
In most countries with more than one national language, in countries with less widely spoken and taught
languages and in Eastern European countries (especially the Baltic countries) graduates are expected
to have a high level of language competence in different languages and the ability to use them in a
efficient and flexible manner in many communication situations. Since a graduate’s good command of
English is, on the whole, being taken for granted more and more, it no longer constitutes a competitive
edge. As the number of people with high English proficiency grows, their market value decreases. In
some cases the command of two or more languages is obligatory irrespective of the position sought, at
least in international companies. In other countries, a second language is a useful add-on or tends to
be considered useful only in specific locations. In any case, another language will make university
graduates more qualified in what has become a very competitive national and European job market.
Languages can be a factor for career development, for professional promotion and for financial
advantages. The knowledge of other languages, cultures and systems is also proving to be a reliable
indicator of the key generic qualities, skills and abilities that are being sought in the national, European
and international markets.
English is followed by the languages of the main economic partners, and as for nearly all EU countries
the most important partner economies pertain to the European area: the languages which are the most
frequently used are German, French, Spanish and Italian.
But for countries with more than one official language the other main national language is often the first
language that follows English. The Eastern European countries seem more concerned with learning the
languages of the countries that are investing in their country so as to attract investors from other
European countries. Russian is also still very important in these countries and seems to be regaining
ground in other countries such as Finland. With the enlargement of the EU, Eastern European
languages seem to slightly gain importance.
As well as Europe, North America and Japan Asian countries are clearly gaining ground as global
economic players, and the economic relation of the EU to the Middle East, Africa, Russia, and Latin
America is also intensifying competence in non-European languages, which are becoming an important
economic asset. They point to the intensification of a particular need for Chinese, but also Spanish and
Portuguese; Japanese and Arabic are also mentioned. Depending on economic partners and activities,
any language can be of importance.
New linguistic demands in the private and public sector
Within this general trend, it can be said that there are differences between economic sectors and types,
sizes and departments of companies and the different positions occupied, even though there is not yet
much information about the real use of language in different professional contexts. It also seems that
the higher the position of the employee, the more English dominates among the languages used. The
number of different languages used is also higher with larger enterprises.
Even though most internationalised companies use English as their corporate language, often in parallel
with the national language, and despite the fact that good English proficiency is required for nearly
everyone working or applying for a qualified function in these corporations, possession of English skills
at an advanced level for all situations of communications is not enough to ensure international success.
The situation is more complex and depends on the language-use situation. In fact, English is used as
the working language in several domains, especially where are multinational teams for communication
between staff members and communication with customers such as reading specialised literature.
According to the real competences of the employee group, which often includes a significant percentage
of foreign staff, national languages or a mix of languages are used both in meetings and in informal
situations. English is mainly reserved to middle to top management positions currently active at an
international level such as executives and marketing departments, including the functions of customer
relations and technical/engineering staff. Communication with customers preferably takes place in the
language of the customers. Here other language requirements come to play a role depending on the
location of their branch offices and business partners. In this context, intercultural competences are also
highly important. The amount and the intensity of foreign language needed have been shown to depend
on the share of foreign businesses relative to total business volume. Different linguistic variants for
different situations seem to be an advantage in managing complex situations. Some companies employ
specialised in-house linguistic services charged with translations of official texts and brochures or give
them to external translators.
In national companies English is less important. It plays a role only in highly specialized departments
with an international workforce. If there are more than one national language, these can be more
important than English. The group of enterprises according little value to foreign languages mostly
comprises small enterprises and companies oriented towards local or regional markets. But as regards
economic internationalisation, activities transcending national borders are now not only common to large
corporations, but are also becoming part of the business strategies of small and medium sized
enterprises more and more.
With regard to university graduates in international organisations, very high proficiency in spoken and
written English and competences of different levels in at least one (and often more) other official
language of the organisation is required. The levels of reference are defined as excellent fluent (perfect
mastery written and oral), working knowledge (capability of working independently, preparing all kinds of
documents, participation in professional meetings and discussions) and limited knowledge (ability to
phone, to understand work-related texts, follow meetings and discussions, and intervene in the
language). In addition, the ability to establish and maintain work relations with people of different
nationalities and from different cultural backgrounds plays an important role.
This sector has not been treated in great detail in most of the reports; it seems, nevertheless, that
membership of the EU has greatly influenced the job profiles of civil servants, especially in higher
positions such as members of the executive and legislative bodies, high officials in economic, social,
political and military units, specialists in higher education and research and any other civil servant
involved in the integration process. English has become more important. Language-use situations,
requirements, and competency levels have risen; this concerns both spoken and written competence
related to meetings, negotiations, international projects, networking and documentation. Language and
communication skills in different languages are a stronger aspect in career development than before.
Language graduates working outside language related industries and professions
With the general internationalisation of working life, language graduates are also increasingly working
outside language related industries e.g. in the corporate sector in positions requiring language expertise
as technical writers, webmasters, translators, interpreters, or in the marketing, public relations, human
resources and management departments, etc. Broadly speaking, this entails tasks that demand multiple
skills. The typical content of language graduates’ programmes is too narrow to provide for the skills
needed in working as an expert in multidisciplinary teams. There is a need for a broader profile for
easier access to market. In order to prepare language graduates for new types of jobs, their education
should also include, for example, systematic development of teamwork and project management skills,
technical communication, documentation, translation and the development of strategic and intercultural
communication competence. There are increasing opportunities for language graduates who have
additional expertise in some non-language field. Combinations of language studies and subjects from
domains other than the humanities (such as economics, geography or a technical field) seem to be
attractive qualifications as regards the labour market.
In addition, language teacher education needs to widen its scope to include more opportunities to
specialise in adult language education and its pedagogical practice.
In proportions varying according to the country concerned, there is recruitment of highly qualified foreign
personnel, but this is either only partly for linguistic reasons or languages constitute a lesser motive.
Another important motive lies in knowledge of foreign markets.
This is especially true in the UK, where there are certain specific problems linked, to the role of English
in the global market place, particularly in a linguistic context. The widespread use of English in
international business persuades both certain companies and a sizeable part of the population that they
can very well make do with English even though the government and leaders of business organisations
are not necessarily of this opinion. National deficiencies in languages are being supplemented with
recourse to native speakers for a variety of tasks and functions. The employment of native speakers is
seen as a strategy for avoiding language and cultural barriers. In connection with this, some companies
are employing native speakers for their different markets. The use of native speakers in the UK has
risen notably in recent years, which is ascribed to the increasing mobility of the workforce, particularly in
Formal and informal linguistic and intercultural qualifications sought after on the national labour
markets and the European labour market
According to the different documents analysed, the changes in the labour market require graduates to
have extended communicative ability including foreign languages and their mother tongue in various
situations of use. Languages really have to be sufficient for competent and credible oral and written
communication, for the ability to develop and maintain face to face and virtual relationships over cultural
borders. In this context, besides professional knowledge and know-how, a massive increase in the
importance of a series of generic cognitive and social skills and competences can be observed for
almost all professions. These have traditionally not necessarily been associated with language skills but
they are closely related to languages and communication and can be achieved only through language.
The language and communication skills and competences sought after can be described according to
categories drawn by a Task Force specifically for the TNP3 project to illustrate a more extensive view of
the concepts than the traditional knowledge of language. For this context, the following categories and
core skills are relevant: generic competences for interpersonal and strategic communication, language
specific communicative competences, profession–specific communicative competences for non-
language professionals and generic language learning competences. They form - in various
combinations - a part of the professional profiles of the academic workforce.
Generic competences for interpersonal and strategic communication (for both mother tongue and
These generic competences and skills are valid for all professional functions and fields and enable
employees to handle professional situations effectively. They are often considered by employers and
employees as important as professional know-how because they are the key to functioning interaction
with others and to more rapid and frictionless access to changing knowledge in a specific field. These
core language and communication skills are needed on one side for interaction, working in teams and
groups, making decisions, solving problems collaboratively, networking, intercultural communication and
on the other side analysing for organising, sharing, and presenting information both orally and in written
form, search, analyse and evaluate information, to interpret, compare facts and make conclusions, etc.
Language specific communicative competences including intercultural competences
This roughly means action-oriented speaking, writing and reading and listening skills in a given
language as defined in the Council of Europe's Common European Framework of Reference for
Languages. It emerges from the reports, that all skills are sought after, but the most needed skills on
average are spoken communication skills; at the managerial level written skills are also needed and
technical staff also need good reading and also listening skills. The requirement for writing increases
among university graduates. Employees need workplace communication in foreign languages. The level
of competence needed in a given language may vary according to the job requirements.
For spoken communication and understanding, the most often-mentioned skills are the ability to take
part in work-related face-to-face conversations and discussions, the ability to talk on the phone and to
use the language for purposes of travel, socialising and in different formal and informal situations, for
professional presentations and meetings. Reading mainly constitutes professional literature for updating
expertise and understanding work-related texts. The main expected writing skills are correspondence
(letters, emails, and faxes), reports, project plans and other documentation and the ability to edit and
assess others’ compositions. Mediation skills like translations and interpretation are also very important
and there is an increasing need for it. The importance of precision in translation is stressed.
There is a consensus that language skills also have to be underpinned by cultural skills to guarantee
communicative success when interacting in multicultural contexts. This means the awareness of
intercultural differences in communication and the ability to create a common ground in interaction: it is
the ability to establish and maintain personal or work relations with people of different nationalities and
from different cultural backgrounds. In particular, successful negotiation in an international context
requires awareness and understanding of one’s own values and the ways in which cultural background
can affect negotiating styles and tactics, and the ability to deal with conflict, also by toning down
language and using persuasive strategies. Intercultural communicative competence, though,
presupposes developing the cognitive (knowledge and attitudes), affective (emotional) and behavioural
skills necessary to communicate effectively with members of other cultures.
Knowing cultures and systems is an indicator of the key generic qualities and skills that are required in
the national, European and international markets: flexibility, openness, a sense of personal and
professional ethics, organisational ability, propensity toward innovation, desire to learn and grow. There
also seems to be strong link between cultural diversity and exceptional performance. Intercultural
competence is seen as part of becoming an expert in the field, as a component of knowledge
management and tacit knowledge, as well as a source of competitive advantage and added value.
Profession–specific communicative competences for non-language professionals
Inasmuch concerns profession-specific language and communication skills, they are needed at
international workplaces, international and intercultural work contexts at home or abroad and for
international networking (including virtual interaction and collaboration), e.g. those required of an
international lawyer, research scientist, journalist, project manager and staff, sales manager, marketing
professional, health personnel, PR officials.
There seems to be a special need for lawyers with profession-specific communicative competences.
Law firms need professionals who know European legislation and foreign legal systems and can
function in English, although French or other languages are also sometimes considered an asset. They
will need to do the following: read and analyse legal material to understand the law and how it applies to
the case in question, manage telephone communication, participate in and conduct meetings including
giving oral presentations, explain another legal system (including the translation of points of law) to a
colleague or client, update clients on a case, both orally and in writing, negotiate/bargain, employing
strategies and gambits for interrupting, clarifying, rejecting a position, etc., arrange documents
according to the requirements of a certain country’s legislation system, draft all kinds of legal
documents, from memoranda and correspondence (also via email) to briefs and contracts.
Generic language learning competences
This ability allows employees to use appropriate learning strategies both for language learning and for
using language as a tool for information management, knowledge construction. It includes skills for
independent and self-directed language learning, that is to say, the capacity for life-long learning which
has become essential in a complex, increasingly interdependent and rapidly evolving world. Many
company-specific, business-specific, and profession-specific communication skills cannot be catered for
to an adequate degree during the educational careers of the graduates but only evolve from their actual
job requirements and operational environments. Generic language learning competences enable
continuous development and allow employees to expand languages repertoires and intercultural
competences at any moment of their lives in response to changing professional or personal needs, to
evolve in the profession and to maintain employability.
Promotion of the multilingual and multicultural competence and diversification of the communicative
competence (including mother tongue communication) of university graduates is very important in view
of the future labour market.
Validation of learning, assessment, certification – what does the labour market recognise and
Only in a few countries (such as Finland) which have a well-established infrastructure related to
compulsory degree language requirements with clear definition of levels and learning outcomes and
degree certificates that have transcripts as their attachments, do employers have a relatively good idea
of what job applicants can do linguistically on the basis of their formal education. In many other cases
university language examinations or marks, ECTS or diploma supplements are rarely mentioned or
used by the employers to be proof of language skills.
Nearly all the reports mention external international language certificates as additional formal validation
for graduates, but they are not systematically valued. Seemingly, employers are not willing to rely solely
upon standard forms of certificates and tests even if they are increasingly gaining territory in some
countries. In the end, foreign language certificates are among the items drawn upon for sorting out
candidates among the incoming applications.
International expertise, such as study and internship periods, travel and work experience abroad, is
highly valued in all countries because it is often considered the best external indicator of language
competence. It is also supposed to broaden horizons, and to develop openness to different ways of
doing things, flexibility in adapting to change, and also sometimes better knowledge regarding socio-
political, economic, financial and legal systems of other countries.
A certain number of employers use their own language tests for assessing whether the candidates’
abilities correspond to their own needs and for verifying applicants' self-declared language competence.
But more informal ways of exploring the extent of pragmatic language competence of graduates (e.g.
interviewing in the foreign language, a group role play or simulation) are more common today than in-
house tests. This is considered a way to test language competence along with communication ability,
social behaviour, organisational skills and stress management potential.
Individual portfolios compiled by graduates are sometimes used in connection with CVs but the
European Language Portfolio (ELP) of the Council of Europe is still largely unknown among students
and employers even though the level and competence descriptions of the Council of Europe are
becoming progressively better known and appreciated in the word of work because they create common
understanding between employers, educators, and graduates of the composition, scope, range and
levels of language skills and indicate what the student can really do with the language.
Some employers show interest in the European Language Portfolio because there is a need for
transparency and lifelong documentation of language and intercultural competences and experiences.
And the ELP responds to this need: it enables all language proficiency (acquired within or outside formal
educational settings) and intercultural experience to be presented in a comprehensible, complete, and
internationally comparable way. It also contains guidelines for reflecting on one's own language learning
and for planning and monitoring further learning.
Communication/co-operation between HEIs/public authorities and the world of work – aims and
It is generally agreed that there is a growing awareness of the importance and the need for more
collaboration between workplaces and educational institutions to bridge the gap between study and
work. This has been particularly boosted by the profound structural changes in the higher education
sector initiated by the Bologna Declaration. The creation of the European higher education space which
goes along with the political, social and economic European integration process aims, amongst other
things, at the construction of a dynamic, internationally competitive European knowledge-based society
and thus puts a greater emphasis on the promotion of employability, especially by developing first-cycle
programmes leading to a degree relevant for the European labour market.
At a national and political level, new university acts in different countries integrate the objectives of the
Bologna Declaration and emphasise close cooperation between research, curriculum development and
the labour market. Now, there are often representatives of the economy represented in higher education
bodies leading to the participation of employers and their organisations in the process of decision
making in educational matters.
In some member states considerable attention has more recently been given to developing closer
networking and collaboration between labour market actors and HE institutions particularly at the
regional level, stressing the societal function of the universities in relationship to regional development.
Cooperation between higher education and industry takes place, for example, in research projects or in
regional, national and international projects. This way the world of work has an indirect influence on
contents of study programmes and increases the scope of innovative programmes.
It can also be mentioned that efforts are being made to integrate the real needs of the workplace into
higher education programmes, e.g. the process of introducing new study programmes with bachelor and
master degrees includes measures for warranting quality assurance. A crucial instrument for attaining
quality consists in the procedure of accrediting study programmes. Among the criteria for evaluating
study programmes are that the programme has to take into account data collected from former
graduates about the adequacy of studies and the workplace, or has to present a concept for the fields of
professional activity that graduates qualify for, and that predictable developments in professional fields
are to be taken into account. But the accreditation of programmes is not obligatory.
A growing number of initiatives to coordinate collaboration between universities and the world of work
lead some faculties to take the needs of the labour market (e.g. medicine, economy) into account more
consciously. But contacts are still rare and there are not yet systematic and formalised structures of
regulation to integrate systematically the present and future language and intercultural needs in the
higher education curricula. This aim requires a continuous dialogue between institutions and employers
in determining their respective roles and in designing course contents and assessing success in the
workplace. Transparency on both sides is a prerequisite for success.
University job placement services are quite widespread. They coordinate internships, work placements,
opportunities for further training, give career advice and create databanks – the online establishment of
contacts between graduating students and prospective employers, companies and non-profit
organisations, public administration, professional associations both local and national, and, in some
cases, European institutions. Additional services are offered too, with computer software and tutors that
match supply and demand with varying degrees of personalisation. There are career information days
for students in higher education institutions in order to familiarise the future graduates with their career
opportunities and options and the requirements corresponding to the respective positions and also offer
companies the opportunity to meet promising students and graduates during company presentations,
workshops and similar events. Universities and local associations support initiatives by students and
professors to start up new businesses. There is a tendency to monitor both study and work careers. But
the data collected in these contexts has no impact on the curriculum and does not remedy the mismatch
between the linguistic and intercultural competences of the graduates and the real needs and
expectations of the labour market.
There also seems to be an increase of surveys among HE graduates done by university services,
national institutes of statistics, university consortiums, etc. There normally look at the time span between
the end of studies and the start of work as an indicator of difficulty entering the job market or of the
situation of graduates some years after their studies. These may contain more detailed questions in
order to obtain more refined information, e.g. what kind of training graduates are missing, an insight that
would have enhanced career prospects. The surveys can also concern employers and often contain
suggestions of how to improve transferable skills for students.
Needs analyses are carried out so as to be more informed on the real requirements in a specific
domain, and studies are done to determine trends in employment related to the area of study or other
aspects. The information obtained is still rarely taken into account in curriculum design to ensure
adequate qualification integrating the language and intercultural needs of the labour market.
While there are many new developments and opportunities for collaboration between government,
universities and economic stakeholders there still appears to be little specific information being
generated about language competences and intercultural skills which would enable a clearer
understanding of the language and language-related needs arising from European integration and
globalisation within higher education.
III. Needs and recommendations
Based on the national reports submitted for this project, and on the results of the TNP3 questionnaire-
based consultation, there seems to be no doubt that there is a massive need for many types of action
within individual countries as well as across Europe if the aims of making languages play a key role in
creating enhanced opportunities for graduates on the European labour market are to be fulfilled. The
reports document that action is required as regards strengthened consultation between academia and
the world of work, and as regards increased cooperation among institutions of higher education.
The following is an attempt to set out the most important recommendations and specific areas of action
that may be made on the basis of the work so far in the project. However, these recommendations and
suggestions for action will probably need revision after the completion of the consultation phase. It is
against this recognition that the recommendations must be seen – and followed up on at institutional,
national and European level.
It is important to be aware that recommendations in the area addressed by sub-project two are very
complex, due to the variety of university graduates it deals with and the consequent multitude of
different types of skills and qualifications are needed. It is important to deal with these problems through
a combination of bottom-up and top-down dialogue and that dialogue with employers in the future work
in this area is strengthened. Universities cannot improve the situation on their own.
IMPROVEMENT OF DIALOGUE WITH EMPLOYERS
Recommendation 1: Language/communication profile of university graduates
Issue2 European integration and globalisation lead to increased language/communication
needs – especially for non-language graduates. There is frequently a mismatch
between the linguistic and intercultural competence of graduates and the real needs
of the labour market due to insufficient dialogue between universities and employers
in this area. If these needs are not addressed there is a risk that Europe will lose out.
action In order to address this issue, the curricula of language and intercultural training for
these graduates must be based on real workplace needs. This requires continuous
dialogue, e.g. through the proposed Virtual Consortium, between institutions and
employers in designing course contents and assessing the success of these in the
In this connection it is recommended that also attention is devoted to developing
professional mother tongue communication skills and competences.
action Primarily universities and companies/employers’ associations and similar
2Issue here covers a factor/state of affairs/problem area which is pointed out in several of the national reports as something
which needs to be addressed.
Recommendation 2: New forms of organisation of work
Issue European integration and globalisation lead to changes in workplace organisation
and to relations between employees becoming increasingly multicultural, multi-
lingual and interdisciplinary (e.g. in connection with cross-border mergers). This may
lead to decreasing efficiency and productivity, which European business cannot
afford in the global competition. Employers increasingly seem to be concerned about
their employees’ language skills.
Recommended It is recommended that further empirical research on this particular issue in the
action national reports is carried out at a European level, i.e. through a collation of what is
already there in various reports and surveys, possible supplemented by new up-to-
date reports on the current situation.
The possibility of applying for European funding for such research should be
It is further recommended that a permanent forum be set up to bring together
academics and public and private sector employers and employees’ organisations
in order to ensure realistic language and intercultural communication training for
Level of Selected universities (probably including researchers with expertise in work place
action organisations alongside language experts) in cooperation with the level of
companies as well as labour market organisations, i.e. employers associations and
Recommendation 3: The role of English – and of other languages
Issue The special role of English is an issue to which attention is devoted in all national
reports and in most discussions of language related issues in general. Opposite
claims like ‘English - as a lingua franca - is not enough’ and ‘In practice only
(good) English is required’ are abundant.
There is no doubt that there is a strong and increasing correlation between the
dominance of English worldwide as the language of business, science,
entertainment, etc. and the dominance of English as the preferred foreign
language taught and learned in schools and universities. This development is
likely to continue to accelerate and
the special status of English will dominate discussions also in the future.
action More empirical research, and not least solid forecasts of what the current status of
English and other languages and ‘march of English’ will mean in the future. What
will be the status of English in a generation from now.
Every member state and every university should be encouraged to draw up
language policies to address the issues of language needs of their population,
workforce and students in the future. The current prevalent laissez-faire approach
in the area will not be sufficient if Europe’s ambitions to be a leading economic
area are to be fulfilled.
action All levels – European level, national government level, company level and
Recommendation 4: Better empirical data on the state of play in specific sectors, types of
Issue The language needs vary a great deal from business sector to business sector as
well as between levels in organizational hierarchies. I.e., not all employees need the
same language competences. This is borne out by the questionnaire-based
consultation among graduates and employers which has been carried out as part of
Recommended In order to target the efforts to equip employees with the right language
action competences closer investigation in most countries would be required.
Level of Company level
UIVERSITY LANGUAGE POLICIES
Recommendation 5: Languages as part of all degree programmes at European Universities
In only a few European countries are the development of language and
communication competence integrated in university programmes outside specific
This is an unsatisfactory situation in relation to pertinent issues of mobility and
employability of university graduates across Europe.
action It would add greatly to the fulfilment of the political aims behind this project and the
Commission’s paper “Promoting Language Learning and Linguistic Diversity”, if
language competences were integrated in all university study programmes with
specific numbers of ECTS-points in connection with the continued implementation of
the Bologna process. The Council of Europe’s ‘European Language Portfolio’ would
be a recommended tool for this action.
The drawing up of university language policies is an important tool in this area.
action European, national and university levels.
CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT, SELF-LEARNING RESSOURCES
Recommendation 6: Development of self-study learning resources as a road towards life-long
Issue In order to strengthen and implement recommendation 3 it will be of paramount
importance for universities to develop self-directed, self-access resources for
students to acquire language competences in various forms of guided, self-directed
or blended learning (i.e. to use new learning environments).
Students are in many ways becoming fairly ‘independent of time and place’ in their
study behaviour, which in itself has a beneficial impact on their learning. This should
be exploited also in the area of language learning. Provision of independent learning
possibilities should be promoted as an integrated part of language modules
integrated in the students’ degree programmes.
It is important to stress that various forms of e-learning will not work in isolation but
have to be used in combination with revised curricula where attention to language
and communication competences are integrated in the teaching of other subjects
Key parameters in this process are teacher qualifications and support facilities and
resources for development of new self-access resources.
action Primarily the level of universities. However, a special action under the European
Union research and educational programmes would probably strengthen this
development, and above all, ensure that best-practice is shared among universities
in different countries.
Recommendation 7: Non-European languages
Issue Europe’s competitiveness also depends on economic relations outside Europe. This
requires competences also in non-European languages.
Recommended This is a largely un-examined area, which requires research.
action The student exchange programmes of the European Union which have resulted in
massive numbers of university students spending a term or two at other European
universities should be expanded to include countries outside Europe, e.g. in Asia
and the Arab world.
Instruments to achieve this would be to better promote and disseminate the
possibilities offered under the Erasmus Mundus programme and to support the
implementation of Erasmus Mundus Initiatives at national and university levels.
Level of European national government and university level